In today’s Norse blog post I talk about Yggdrasil (pronounced “IG-druh-sill”; Old Norse Askr Yggdrasils) which is the centre of the Norse spiritual Cosmos, also known as the Tree of life.
Now the Nine Worlds are held in the branches and roots of this internal green Ash tree, which is grown from the Well of Urd. Yggdrasil is carried by three enormous roots, the first root going down to Asgard, the home of the Gods. The next root ends at Jotunheim the land of the giants; where Mimir’s Well is next to it. Lastly, the third root goes down to Niflheim, which is close to the well Hvergelmir.
There are several animals that live on Yggdrasil however the main ones to note are –
Ratatosk a spiteful, tale-telling squirrel who carries messages to and from the serpentine dragon, Nidhogg who is the pet dragon of the goddess Hel which chews the roots of the tree which bind it. Another is the eagle who lives in the top branches of the World Tree, it is said the Eagle has knowledge of many things. Nidhogg and the eagle loathe each other, and the messages carried back and forth by Ratatosk consist of insults. Dvalinn, Duraþrór, Duneyrr, and Dáinn are four stags that bound along the branches and eat the tree’s buds and represent the four winds. Additionally, the goat, Heidrun, lives in Valhalla. Instead of milk flowing from her udders, she produces an endless supply of mead for the warriors.
According to the poem Hávamál, Odin paradoxically hangs himself from a tree (usually taken to be Yggdrasil although it is not explicitly identified as such) as a human sacrifice to himself, who remains alive as a divinity. He suffers the pain and hardship of this transcendent consciousness for nine nights, in order to acquire knowledge of the runes.
Hung I was on the windswept tree;
Nine full nights I hung,
Pierced by a spear, a pledge to the god,
To Odin, myself to myself,
On that tree which none can know the source
From whence its root has run.
None gave me bread, none brought a horn.
Then low to earth I looked.
I caught up the runes, roaring I took them,
And fainting, back I fell.
The Nine Worlds (also known as realms) held by Yggdrasil are:
- Asgard, world of the Aesir
- Vanaheim, land of the Vanir
- Alfheim, land of the light elves.
- Midgard, Land of humans (middle world/garden)
- Nidavellir, Land of the dwarfs
- Jotunheim, Land of the giants (Jotuns)
- Svartalfheim, Land of the dark elves.
- Hel, Realm of the dead
- Niflheim, World of the dead.
Each world has a wealth of information about it, therefore I will discuss each one in future posts.
However, the first worlds that existed before the existence of any other matter were Niflheim and Muspelheim, the realms of ice and fire. They were separated by Ginnungagap, known as the yawning void or the abyss. As the fire of Muspelheim and the ice of Niflheim reached out toward each other, the ice began to melt. The result was a completely new creation of worlds, and the first life, the giant Ymir, was formed. The icy realm of Niflheim was populated with Frost Giants, while the fiery land of Muspelheim was populated with the eldjötnar or Fire Giants.